|LONG STRANGE TRIP: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE GRATEFUL DEAD (director: ;Amir Bar-Lev; screenwriter: ;cinematographer: Nelson Hume; editors: Keith Fraase, John Walter; music: David Lemieux, Joe Rudge, Kyle McKeveny; cast: Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzman, Robert Hunter; Runtime: 239; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Ken Dornstein, Justin Kreutzmann, Alex Blavatnik, Nick Koskoff, Eric Eisner; Amazon Studios; 2017)|
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Amir Bar-Lev ("Re:Generayion"/"Fighter") directs a pleasing documentary that fully explores (but without depth) the renown Bay Area band called The Grateful Dead and their 30-year odyssey across the world stage as the premiere psychedelic band. The end came with the death in 1995 of Jerry Garcia. It tells of the most unlikely success story in rock 'n' roll history. The acid taking free-spirit band is averse to publicity, authority and seemingly incapable of recording radio-friendly hits--instead they shunned music-industry convention by giving their live music away to tape traders and thereby surprisingly becoming the highest-grossing concert act in America through just word of mouth alone.
The handsome doc is filled with snippets of their hits and unguarded backstage moments, plus candid interviews with the band, road crew, family members and notable Deadheads (the name given to their followers). The film provides insights into lead-guitarist Jerry Garcia's life philosophy, and highlights the other band members -- Bob Weir (rhythm guitar), Phil Lesh (bass), Mickey Hart (percussionist) and Bill Kreutzman (drummer). It also talks about their longtime lyricist Robert Hunter, and gives a shout-out to Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, the whiskey-slinging bluesman who provided the Dead most of its crazy energy in the early years, but drinks himself to death at 27.
It's based on the band's publicist Dennis McNally’s 2001 book, who tells how the band went into the music business for an adventure and to connect with their fans. The band in 1974 poured their profits into coming up with the best sound system, that was so fucking good for its massive outdoor events. The groundbreaking sound system was devised by the legendary LSD chemist Owsley Stanley.
The documentary’s title, “Long Strange Trip” comes from “Truckin’,” a song from its 1970 album American Beauty.
REVIEWED ON 1/13/2018 GRADE: A-
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
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